June 16, 2016| Michael Hernandez
Adam Gase and Tannehill
Draft Picks Making Sense
Fixing the Defense
When the Dolphins originally hired Adam Gase in January, I was a bit skeptical. This former OC of the Broncos and Bears came with high praise and I couldn’t understand why.
Until his retirement after the 2015 NFL season, football fans and media would jokingly say the easiest job in the NFL is being Peyton Manning’s Offensive Coordinator. So naturally, I didn’t give much credit to Gase when Manning was raining touchdowns on opposing teams, and breaking records for the Broncos. And when he was the Offensive Coordinator with the Bears in 2015, Gase was credited for “fixing” Jay Cutler. A term that was used in relevance to cutting down Cutler’s typical headscratching interceptions. Indeed, Cutler threw 7 less interceptions than he did the previous year(dropping from 18 INTs in 2014 to 11 INTs in 2015), but he also threw 7 less touchdowns(28 TDs in 2014 to 21 TDs in 2015). However, by May I was beginning to buy in.
Coming out of a disappointing and disastrous 2015 season, the Dolphins major positions of need were at cornerback, guard, free safety, middle linebacker, and defensive end. By the end of the 2016 NFL draft, all of these positions were addressed. Now, I’m not saying they are all going to work out, but they have been addressed which is all I can hope for as a Dolphins fan.
In March during the Free Agency period, the Dolphins addressed 5 of their needs in just 7 days. They completed a trade in which they switched 2016 1st Round draft positions with the Eagles (Dolphins fall to 13th overall pick. Eagles moved up to 8th.), and acquired LB Kiko Alonso and CB Byron Maxwell. Kiko Alonso is a young talent who won 2013 Defensive Rookie of the year, but since has had a repeated injury history with his left ACL. Byron Maxwell struggled last year in Philly, but could be a good scheme fit in Dolphins’ Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph’s Zone system.
The Dolphins also acquired 4x pro-bowler DE Mario Williams from the rival Buffalo Bills, a player who has terrorized Ryan Tannehill, and singlehandedly ended close games against the Dolphins. He had a down year in 2015(producing only 5 sacks), but that was arguably due to Bill’s HC Rex Ryan’s scheme which asked Mario Williams to drop back in coverage. Paired with Cam Wake on the other side, this could make for a fearsome veteran passrush. The Dolphins also signed former Jags DE Andre Branch to create depth at the position, after losing DE Olivier Vernon to the Giants in Free Agency.
Miami still needed secondary help and signed FS Isa Abdul-Quddus of the Lions to pair with S Reshad Jones. Abdul-Quddus started 8 games for the Lions and his play earned him praise and a 3-year $12.75 million contract, a nice chunk of money for a starting caliber safety.
On the offensive side of the ball, Adam Gase brought in OL Jermon Bushrod from the Bears. Bushrod is a pro-bowl 9-year veteran tackle who was released by the Bears, and will probably be moved inside to guard, a spot that has been a glaring weakness for the Dolphins for years.
Most of these free agency moves aren’t sexy, but they are cheap and cost friendly to the team. Unlike past years when the Dolphins overpaid each offseason to bring in one star player(i.e. Ndamukong Suh and Mike Wallace), the Dolphins decided to sprinkle in multiple veteran players at an affordable rate to rebuild the team in Adam Gase’s vision.
Then came the 2016 NFL Draft, and Miami had it’s best draft in years. They selected 4 players that have the ability to start and impact this team in 2016: OT Laremy Tunsil, CB Xavien Howard, WR Levonte Carroo, and WR Jakeem Grant.
A Top 5 ranked player, OT Laremy Tunsil, fell in the 1st round to the Dolphins after the infamous gasmask video was leaked minutes before the draft. Although he is a right tackle, he will be slid inside to right guard as Brandon Albert has already solidified the RT position.
Many Miami fans will tell you the biggest need for this team is corner, and the Dolphins still needed to find one to play opposite of Byron Maxwell. They could not wait until the 3rd round and miss out on selecting a starting caliber corner. Cornerback Xavien Howard was selected in the 2nd round. Although he has a trend for getting beat over the top, he is big, strong, fast, and physical. He is a perfect scheme fit for Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph who has had success getting the most out of his defensive backs in Cincinnati.
Another need to fill was at the running back position. After Lamar Miller left to the Texans in Free Agency, Jay Ajayi was listed as the starting running back for the Fins. Although Ajayi is entering his second year in the league, there were questions about his knee, how durable he could be throughout his career, and how long that career would be. This led to the Dolphins selecting RB Kenyan Drake. During his college career at Alabama, Drake has been the number 2 back for Eddie Lacy, Derrick Henry, and T.J. Yeldon. Gase likes backs who can catch out of the backfield(i.e. Matt Forte), and that’s exactly what Drake does. He can also add an element to the return game.
Heading into the draft, the Dolphins seemed set at the wide receiver position. Jarvis Landry was a 2nd round pick and an emerging star; Devante Parker was a 1st round pick and showed his playmaking ability towards the end of the 2015 season; and WR Kenny Stills was acquired from Saints for a 3rd round pick. However, the Dolphins traded back into the 3rd round and selected WR Leonte Carroo. Carroo is a tough and physical receiver with great hands who can play inside and out. He will be the number 4 reciever, and could compete for the 3rd spot with a strong training camp.
6th Round selection WR Jakeem Grant brings the exciting element of speed to the offense and special teams. Although Jarvis Landry is an effective punt and kick returner, his workload on the offense is big enough and nobody wants to see Tannehill’s favorite target potentially go down with a special teams injury. Grant has big play potential, and will be the Fin’s returner and could be used in the screen game on offense.
S Jordan Lucas was also drafted in the 6th round. Although he is listed as a safety, he also can play corner. He will add depth to the position, and could contribute in special teams.
QB Brandon Doughty is a 7th round pick. He threw for 5,055 yards last season at Western Kentucky. He has good football IQ, accuracy, and touch. However, he lacks the prototypical NFL arm. Doughty is not going to beat out Ryan Tannehill. But he could compete with Logan Thomas for the No. 3 quarterback spot.
Most of these draftees have an attribute that most players under the Philbin regime lacked- the Alpha Male Personality. Joe Philbin did not like players with a voice, strong personality, and questionable character. Within his first two years as head coach, the Dolphins traded CB Vontae Davis; released LB Karlos Dansby; let LT Jake Long, CB Sean Smith, and RB Reggie Bush leave in free agency; and after the “Bully-gate” scandal, suspended and did not resign LG Richie Incognito. All these moves essentially deprived the dolphins of leadership, talent, and attitude. This led to the Dolphins becoming a soft and mentally weak team in 2014 and 2015. Rookies Jakeem Grant, Xavien Howard, and Leonte Carroo are players who match this personality and can bring back the element of toughness to this team.
Overall, 6 of Miami’s 8 selections were offensive players. Although the 2015 Miami Dolphins ranked 25th in total defense, Adam Gase needed to go this route. It was his first year with his new quarterback, and he needed to develop that relationship of trust immediately. Ryan Tannehill is coming from a previous coaching staff that never trusted him to have complete control of the offense. His first NFL offensive Coordinator and college coach, Mike Sherman, made him play in a remedial and downright boring offense. Bill Lazor, although more diverse, would only his quarterback to audible between two plays. Interim coach Dan Campbell just wanted Tannehill to manage the game, and told him “don’t try to be someone you’re not”. And after he was fired, we learned that Joe Philbin wanted to draft QB Derek Carr in the first round of the 2014 draft.
Ryan Tannehill needs a coach that is going to give him his full support, and the best chance to succeed. Excuses have been made of why Tannehill hasn’t reached his full potential: weapons, offensive line, audible power, etc. Questions of audible ability have also arose from previous seasons. Adam Gase has fixed all that for the offense and his quarterback. This should be the year the Dolphins and their fans realize whether or not they have a quarterback.